Celebrating Service

By Kolb, Richard K. | VFW Magazine, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Celebrating Service


Kolb, Richard K., VFW Magazine


For Commander-in-Chief John Furgess, commemorating service to country and community is foremost.

The year 1967 proved to be pivotal for one of the most bloodied Army divisions of the Vietnam War. That fall the Americal (23rd) Division was formed on the battlefield in I Corps. Before the war was over, it would sustain the third largest number of casualties of the Army's seven full divisions to serve in Vietnam.

In October, a young 2nd lieutenant named John Furgess had joined the unit at its headquarters in Chu Lai, located on the coast of the South China Sea. The year to come was the most eventful in his life, determining much of what he accomplished in his subsequent career.

The centerpiece of that career was and is service. And that is precisely why John Furgess chose Celebration of Service as his theme for his tenure as VFW commander-in-chief. "With this theme we are celebrating three forms of service," he says.

"It is my intent to have members realize that their military service is cause for celebration. Also, as an organization we celebrate community service and service to veterans in helping them claim their well-earned entitlements."

Meeting Priorities

Service, of course, is the essence of today's VFW priorities. "VA health care for both more established veterans and those coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq is and always will be the No. 1 priority," Furgess says. "This is especially so for the severely wounded who will need long-term care after being discharged from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals."

While the politicians debate the best ways to wage war against terrorism, VFW members keep focused on one overriding concern-the welfare of the troops. In the end, it is individual Americans in uniform who carry out the nation's foreign and defense policies, so they should be the center of attention, the Chief believes.

"Adopt-a-Unit is a tremendous means of supporting the troops," Furgess stresses. "That includes National Guard armories and Reserve centers. It is a natural relationship and one worth enhancing. We should take full advantage of all opportunities to explain VFW programs at National Guard events.

"Citizen-soldier units by nature have strong emotional connections to communities. That's where VFWs community service work comes into play. Helping families in general, as well as those of military personnel, is high on the list of our obligations."

Furgess says we need more member involvement with the National Home for Children, too. "This coming January, the Home celebrates its 80th anniversary. To honor that landmark date, I have set up a donor program to encourage VFW District commanders to take the lead in helping to financially support the Home."

Speaking of anniversaries, there is one sorely in need of revival. VFWs birthday-Sept. 29-was recognized this year with a series of special events, including a presidential proclamation. Commemorating VFW Day should be an annual national remembrance, the Chief says. It is our time to shine.

Observances, like many other efforts, underscore the need to be creative in reaching out to potential members. VFW Post 1114 in Evansville, Ind., is the shining star in terms of members. With 3,600 members, it is by far the organization's largest Post. "Its secret to success is the individuals who meet virtually every day to come up with new ways to recruit members," Furgess points out. "I call this the 'spirit of Evansville.' "

To foster recruitment, the Chief devised a three-tiered incentive program to motivate recruiters. But that is only part of the solution. "The future of the organization depends on showing a reason to be active by promoting our good works locally," he emphasizes.

Aggressively seeking younger veterans is all part of the game plan. After all, the Chief says, we need veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan because they will soon fill the chairs now occupied by veterans of previous wars. …

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